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Old 04-26-2012, 07:31 PM
 
Location: Molokai, HI
229 posts, read 889,228 times
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Here's an article by Paul Theroux from Smithsonian Magazine, May 2012. Some of it rings very true for me, but on the whole, I find myself wondering if he has it right, or if he has missed something.

What do you think?
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Old 04-26-2012, 08:07 PM
 
Location: Kahala
11,757 posts, read 15,815,967 times
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I read it as 5 long pages of a man who is not Hawaiian using a lot of words to tell us he didn't really have a whole lot to tell us about Hawaiian culture and traditions since he's not Hawaiian.
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Old 04-26-2012, 08:59 PM
 
Location: Kūkiʻo, HI & Manhattan Beach, CA
2,624 posts, read 6,875,753 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by whtviper1 View Post
I read it as 5 long pages of a man who is not Hawaiian using a lot of words to tell us he didn't really have a whole lot to tell us about Hawaiian culture and traditions since he's not Hawaiian.
Despite living in Hawaiʻi for 22 years, it doesn't seem like Paul Theroux's even managed to become "local."
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Old 04-26-2012, 09:02 PM
 
113 posts, read 236,093 times
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I love Paul Theroux's writing and own several of his books. Yes, he is missing something. Real friends. He is a loner and needs to make a few real connections. I will continue to buy his books.
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Old 04-26-2012, 10:18 PM
 
Location: Molokai, HI
229 posts, read 889,228 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jonah K View Post
Despite living in Hawaiʻi for 22 years, it doesn't seem like Paul Theroux's even managed to become "local."
Not to be adversarial, Jonah K., but I didn't think that ever happened anyway. Doesn't matter how long you live here, how much aloha you share, ...you're still white when it comes down to it.

More to the point, I found his theories about conflict avoidance and resolution in a small, confined community to be interesting, but still mostly speculation on his part. I have witnessed that phenomenon--an unwillingness to engage in conflict with other community members. And yet, at least here on Molokai (or Moloka'i), it is not universal, as demonstrated by the conflict surrounding "the boat".

I have no doubt that his essay will generate a lot of heat from the local community. I'd love to see a rebuttal from someone within the culture.
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Old 04-26-2012, 10:49 PM
 
Location: Volcano
12,971 posts, read 26,543,197 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lauleahere&there View Post
Some of it rings very true for me, but on the whole, I find myself wondering if he has it right, or if he has missed something.
Theroux is a brilliant and profound writer, which is why the UH Library has most of his 40 books. And yes, I'm quite sure he has it right, at least for him. The real question, it seems to me, is does he have it right for you, or for me?

Sorry, I'm one of those irritating screwballs myself, a writer, though without a single shred of Theroux's cred. But I recognize the journey he's describing here, an attempt to get under the skin of something he seems to know intimately but at the same time knows he can never fully fathom.

And yes, I have experienced that mysterious push-back myself. That little reservation, in the middle of a cordial interaction, that pause that says that a particular door is closed to me and there will be no discussion. Not rudely, more subtly than that, but quite definitely.

For me it's quite a thought provoking piece. Thanks for sharing it.
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Old 04-26-2012, 11:49 PM
 
Location: Moku Nui, Hawaii
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He doesn't seem to be the sort of person who is greeted by "Hey, Uncle! Howzit, eh?"
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Old 04-27-2012, 11:56 AM
 
Location: Kūkiʻo, HI & Manhattan Beach, CA
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lauleahere&there View Post
Not to be adversarial, Jonah K., but I didn't think that ever happened anyway. Doesn't matter how long you live here, how much aloha you share, ...you're still white when it comes down to it.
Being "white" doesn't necessarily preclude one from becoming a "Hawaiʻi local." As a matter of fact, there are quite a few white folks that are considered to be "Hawaiʻi locals." Some of them, such as Neil Abercrombie, Brian Schatz, Peter Carlisle, Linda Lingle, Ed Case, etc. even manage to get elected to public office.

Quote:
Originally Posted by lauleahere&there View Post
More to the point, I found his theories about conflict avoidance and resolution in a small, confined community to be interesting, but still mostly speculation on his part. I have witnessed that phenomenon--an unwillingness to engage in conflict with other community members. And yet, at least here on Molokai (or Moloka'i), it is not universal, as demonstrated by the conflict surrounding "the boat".
Theroux pretty much ignored hundreds of years of Hawaiian history when he stated that folks here tend to avoid conflict. Folks in Hawaiʻi often fight over major things and minor things. From building a light rail system on Oʻahu to how deal with coqui frogs on the Big Island, there's pretty of conflict. Unfortunately, it seems as though Theroux doesn't follow the local news much and has apparently spent very little time in a courthouse -- some Hawaiians can be downright mean towards each other.

Quote:
Originally Posted by lauleahere&there View Post
I have no doubt that his essay will generate a lot of heat from the local community. I'd love to see a rebuttal from someone within the culture.
I agree. Unfortunately, Smithsonian Magazine's probably not willing to pay a Hawaiian that actually knows the culture the same amount it paid Paul Theroux for his "drivel."

The main reason that folks in Hawaiʻi were reluctant to open up to Paul Theroux for his "essay" is that they knew he was being paid to write about them. Since "travel writers" have commoditized the "local experience" for mass consumption, some folks in Hawaiʻi are "wise to the game" and expect some kind of renumeration. About this, Theroux wrote:
Several expressed the wish to be paid for talking to me, and when I said it was out of the question they became stammeringly monosyllabic.
Duh.
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Old 04-27-2012, 02:48 PM
 
Location: Portland, OR
1,082 posts, read 2,279,044 times
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It's an interesting article, and I'm not sure how to react to it. I've read severeal of his books, and while I think he's a brilliant writer, he's always come off as something of a misanthrope to me. For example, after reading Kingdom by the Sea, it quelled any desire I had to visit Great Britain. Everyone profiled in it seemed resigned, cynical, and disgusted by life, and they came across as very unpleasant. I've known Brits like that, and I've heard other people say that this is a common attitude there, but I've also known many cheerful, friendly Brits (half of the company I work for is based in the UK). I could only make it halfway through Hotel Honolulu. All of the locals were portrayed as lazy, scheming, "I no care" simpletons. While I've met a few Hawaiians like that (I've met people like that everywhere), they aren't representative of my wife's family, friends, and acquaintances I've come to know over the past 12 years. Theroux seems to zero in on a certain type of person, and draw his conclusions about the entire culture from them.

If I had to take a guess, based on his writing, I'd say he probably doesn't come across as warm and fuzzy in person. He's probably cool and detached, which works well in many cultures, but not in Hawaii (at least in my experience). I'm an introvert by nature, and I was raised in a reserved Northeastern culture. When I'm with Hawaiians, I'm more open and enthusiastic than I usually am on the Mainland. It isn't false; I'm friendly, even-tempered, and optimistic by nature, and I express those traits in ways that are appropriate to wherever I happen to be. It's what Theroux says about paying attention to the local norms and behaving appropriately -- but I have to wonder whether Hawaiian attitudes and behaviors are just too foreign to his nature for him to ever fully understand, so he doesn't really behave appropriately. I'm not so arrogant as to believe I fully understand Hawaii (who can every fully understand anything?), but my Hawaiian friends and in-laws tell me that I "get it," and some even tell me that my soul must have been born in Hawaii. Although there have been exceptions, I've had no trouble getting Hawaiians to open up and talk with me. I express interest in what they have to say, but in a more enthusiastic way than I would here in Oregon, where too much enthusiasm can be looked upon with suspicion. However, I'm sure there are cultures that I wouldn't get because they're foreign to my nature.
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Old 04-27-2012, 03:19 PM
 
Location: Volcano
12,971 posts, read 26,543,197 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hotzcatz View Post
He doesn't seem to be the sort of person who is greeted by "Hey, Uncle! Howzit, eh?"
No, he certainly doesn't.

On the other hand, I am. And I get down with all kinds of people, everywhere I go, and they open up to me with no effort. Matter of fact, a comment I've heard many, many times in my life goes: "I've never told anyone this before..." Even so, I've experienced that same shutdown in Hawai'i, that same subtle pull-back, that same reserve. It's something like "We're all ohana here Cuz," and "what's mine is yours, Brah," but certain questions are met with silence.

Which is why I don't think you can blame Theroux's experience entirely on Theroux's personality. I think he's describing a real thing.
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